Before he became a star wide receiver for the New England Patriots, Julian Edelman was willing to do whatever was necessary to get on the field. Even if that meant lining up on the other side of the ball.
Late in the 2011 season — Edelman’s third in the NFL — injuries in New England’s secondary prompted coach Bill Belichick and his staff to try out the young wideout/punt returner/former college quarterback at nickel back. The Patriots had used slot receiver Troy Brown in a similar defensive role a few years earlier.
Edelman recalled the unexpected position change during an interview with Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” podcast that was released Wednesday.
“They didn’t even tell me,” Edelman said. “They just sat me in these meetings and were like, ‘Yeah, we might have you play some nickel.’ Because we were banged up, and guys were getting hurt, and we were getting guys off the street to do it. So I’m doing scout team here. I’m getting a couple reps on D that week of practice. I didn’t think I was going to get to play. And these jokers actually threw me in the game in New York.”
With two minutes remaining in a blowout win over the Jets, Edelman checked in on defense, lining up at slot cornerback opposite Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. On his very first snap, he crossed paths with running back LaDainian Tomlinson, a former NFL MVP who since has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“And I’m sitting there, and my first play, I had to tackle LT,” Edelman recalled. “And I actually injured him. That was his last play he ever played. Unfortunately — I was a huge fan. I used to have the little LT jersey. … But I had to tackle him.”
That’s only partially true. Edelman’s textbook tackle did injure Tomlinson, who missed the next two games with an MCL ailment, but the running back returned to play in the Jets’ final five games before announcing his retirement.
Edelman, meanwhile, continued to see time on defense for the rest of the 2011 season, even forcing a fumble late in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots went on to lose to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
“It was crazy,” Edelman said on “PMT.” “These guys literally told me on a Wednesday, ‘Hey, you’re going to be in our (defensive) meetings,’ and they played me on a Sunday. And that’s when I knew it was real — it was real in New England.”